A spiky, hard skin with a delicious soft heart: anyone who dares to prepare an artichoke, admittedly not the easiest thing to do, is more than compensated with a delicious flavor and a trove of health benefits.
- ...promote a healthy liver and gallbladder. Artichokes are a rich source of the bitter substance cynarin, which stimulates digestion, improves blood circulation and supports the detoxifying work of the liver.
- ...protect blood vessels. Research has shown that artichokes help to lower elevated cholesterol levels. Extracts from artichokes can even inhibit the incorporation of cholesterol into the cells and dissolve existing cholesterol deposits.
- ...promote digestion. In addition to cynarin, another bitter substance called cynaropikrin in artichokes helps the digestion of fats and heavy meals.
- ...can help you lose weight. Artichokes are low in calories and fat but packed with special dietary fibers that make you feel fuller for longer.
- ...soothe the stomach. Artichokes have long been considered an effective remedy for curing an irritated stomach, due to their abundance of stomach-soothing bitter substances.
- ...are good for diabetics. Artichokes contain a relatively large amount of inulin. When cooked, this fiber transforms into fructose, which the body can process without releasing insulin. This makes artichokes an ideal vegetable for diabetics.
- ...aren't for everyone. If you’re allergic to daisies, artichokes should be eaten with caution. If you have gallstones or a blockage of the bile ducts, you should avoid artichokes completely.
What You Should Know About Artichokes
As early as 500 B.C., artichokes were already highly regarded as a truly royal vegetable in ancient Rome and Egypt. By the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, artichokes were only served in the most aristocratic houses. Nowadays, mere mortals have tremendous access to the vegetable, which is healthful as it is delicious.
The saying “no pain, no gain” is especially pertinent when it comes to the preparation of artichokes. A not insignificant amount of work is needed to get to the tender heart of the vegetable. You can always purchase canned or bottled artichokes that have been preserved in water or oil. However especially during artichoke season, it's more than worth it to purchase fresh artichokes and put the time in towards preparing it yourself.
At the height of summer, you’ll start seeing very small artichokes available in the store, and these have an invaluable advantage: they can be cooked whole and enjoyed with stump and leaves! Anyone who has ever been to France, Italy or Spain will know them from the markets there, where these smaller, very tender varieties are incredible popular.
It is not entirely clear where the artichoke originated, but botanists suspect Arabia, Iran and the Mediterranean region to be their original home.
You can generally find artichokes available in the store all year round.
The inside of the leaves tastes tart, nutty and slightly bitter. Artichoke hearts, on the other hand, have a very mild and delicate taste with a delicious, buttery texture.
How Healthy are Artichokes?
While artichokes aren’t a particularly strong source of viatmins and minerals, they are rich in inulin, a soluble fibre that has a particularly beneficial effect on the intestines and digestion in general.
Inulin also makes artichokes a perfect vegetable for diabetics, as it is converted into fructose in the body, so no insulin is needed for digestion.
Another advantage of artichokes is their cynarin content. This bitter substance, first discovered in 1954, stimulates bile and the formation of digestive juices. Artichokes can therefore contribute to a better tolerance of fatty dishes. Cynarin can also have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels, as well has help support liver function.
|Artichoke Nutritional Info (100 g)|
Shopping and Cooking Tips
Whether you choose the green or somewhat rarer purple variety of artichokes is primarily a question of taste and price. The former tends to be slightly cheaper, while the latter has a more intense taste.
When shopping, look for a crisp stem and juicy leaves without brownish spots. Leaves that are bundled close together are as much a guarantee of freshness as their weight: the heavier the head, the juicier and thus more fresh and flavorful it is.
If you don't want to prepare artichokes straight away, wrap the artichoke and its stalk loosely in a damp kitchen towel and place it in the refrigerator, where it should keep fresh for up to a week. You can also cut off the stem and put the vegetable in a water glass - this will keep it fresh and looks great too.
Wash the artichokes and then break off the stalk (preferably over the edge of a table). Remove the prickly ends of the petals with kitchen scissors and use a bread knife to cut off the bottom of the artichoke and the lowest, very hard leaves. Immediately sprinkle the cut artichokes with lemon juice, otherwise it will turn brown. Now place the artichokes in a large pot with plenty of bubbling salted water, along with the juice of half a lemon. Put the lid on and cook them for 30-45 minutes, depending on their size. You’ll know the artichokes are done when the leaves can be easily pulled out.
What To Make With Artichokes
Artichoke leaves are delicious dipped into a sauce such as aioli or sauce béarnaise. Remember to just consume the soft part of the leaf by scraping it against your bottom teeth. The heart is also delicious paired with a rich, cream or oil-centric sauce.
Artichokes can also be served with a savory filling or baked plain. Very small artichokes are particularly delicious when cooked whole and then drizzled with good quality olive oil and vinegar, with plenty of young garlic. Remember to allow a few minutes for the marinade to absorb into the artichokes. Pair with a fresh baguette and a cool glass of dry white, and you’ve got a perfect summer appetizer or light meal.